CONGRESSWOMAN ELISE STEFANIK
On Monday, November 16, 2015, the House will consider H.R. 1338, the Dignified Interment of Our Veterans Act of 2015, under suspension of the rules. H.R. 1338 was introduced on March 6, 2015 by Rep. Bill Shuster (R-PA) and was referred to the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, which ordered the bill reported, as amended, by voice vote on September 17, 2015.
H.R. 1338 requires the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to conduct a study and report to Congress, not later than one year after enactment, on matters relating to the interment of the unclaimed remains of deceased veterans in national cemeteries to ensure they are treated with dignity and respect. The bill also limits awards and bonuses paid to VA employees who are members of the Senior Executive Service during fiscal year 2016 to not more than an aggregate of $2 million.
On December 30, 2012, the House passed the Dignified Burial and Other Veterans’ Benefits Improvement Act of 2012 (S. 3202) by a vote of 393 to 0. The bill, which was signed into law on January 10, 2013 (Public Law 112-260) “authorized VA to provide burial benefits in a national cemetery for the unclaimed remains of deceased veterans with no known next of kin and who do not have sufficient financial resources for this purpose. Such burial benefits include reimbursements for the cost of a casket or urn, for costs of transportation to the nearest national cemetery, and for certain other funeral expenses.”
On June 24, 2015, Representative Shuster testified before the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs that, despite enactment of the law, “there are currently 47,000 unclaimed, uninterred veterans,” which raises concerns about the effectiveness of federal, state, and local policies with respect to identifying and interring such remains.
H.R. 1338, as amended, requires the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to conduct a study on matters relating to obtaining and interring of unclaimed veteran remains. The “intent of the study is to confirm the scope of this problem, uncover any barriers associated with claiming and interring veteran remains, and solicit recommendations from VA on improvements to our Nation’s collective ability to identify and inter veteran remains.”
According to the bill’s sponsor, “our veterans put their lives on the line to bravely protect our country, and we owe them a debt of gratitude for their service. When they pass away, they should be treated with the proper respect, but unfortunately the remains of thousands of veterans are currently lying unclaimed in facilities across the country. It is crucial for Congress to address this issue and examine how we can improve the VA process for dealing with these remains. Our brave men and women fought for our freedom, and they should be laid to rest with the appropriate military honors that they deserve.”
 House Report 114-312 at 2 and 3.
 Id. at 3.
 See Press Release—“Shuster Introduces Legislation to Help Identify Unclaimed Remains of America’s Veterans,” April 11, 2014.
The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that implementing H.R. 1338 would reduce costs by $1 million over the 2016 to 2020 period, assuming appropriation actions consistent with the bill. Enacting H.R. 1338 would not affect direct spending or revenues; therefore, pay-as-you-go procedures do not apply.
For questions or further information please contact Jerry White with the House Republican Policy Committee by email or at 5-0190.